Without hesitation I’m sure we would all unanimously agree 2020 was challenging. However, it seems we are adaptive and innovative creatures, and (from my reading) we are all pretty optimistic as well! ‘Our industry will bounce back’, but what will it look like when it does?
As we continue to fight our way through the pandemic and lockdown 3.0, I have ploughed my way through various on-line publications on the topic of predictions, expectations, trends and research for our industry. The following represents my top ten, with an emphasis on what they might mean for venues.
- Technology, Technology, Technology (sorry Location!)
- Interaction (what we all crave)
- Experience (keeping us engaged)
- Hybrid (here to stay)
- Social Distancing (or is it physically distancing?)
- Safety First
- New Venues, New Competitors
- Contactless Food Delivery
Without question the number one prediction/trend for 2021 is the use of Technology. I’m sure it will play a part in enhancing the whole event process, from marketing to virtual venue tours, from project management to event delivery and production. From the more extravagant ideas of integrating the likes of Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality/Artificial Intelligence tech into events, to the more obvious virtual/hybrid tech platforms i.e., from your basic Zoom or Microsoft Teams to Cvent or Swapcard, Hopin, Eventcase, Brella and the multitude of other platforms on offer, technology will play a major part of meeting and events. Technology I’m sure will also have a bigger role in booking venues. Our industry had already seen a shortening of lead-times, the pandemic has created caution in commitment to booking, so predictions are that ‘live availability’ and ‘on demand’ meeting spaces are likely to increase.
As well as these technologies, other comments and discussions have been around gamification and Interaction tools that are expected to develop/grow. There have also been a few that have highlighted, certainly in the short-term that virtual events will continue, with some conversations about how they might evolve? As more and more people become more competent (less ‘you need to unmute’) and home office improvements such as broadcasting webcams with illumination and noise-cancelling microphones, previously reserved for gamers and YouTubers.
This improved competence is also reflected in our industry, as event planners are increasingly becoming more confident with technology, and even tech savvy. However, the biggest challenge that is set to continue for event planners since the first lockdown is Engagement & Experience. The attendee experience, ensuring targeted and applicable content, connectivity and networking and entertainment are all important in ensuring engagement, particularly as ….
‘Hybrid meetings and events are here to stay’ – This is very much a resounding opinion. There are lots of suggestions around how the approach to hybrid might develop, such as a more TV, less conference style. Is this then the death of the keynote and the conference session? Will they be replaced with shorter sessions or micro-experiences? Certainly more ideas and creativity are likely, such as festivalisation (events with a variety of content that visitors decide which aspect they want to engage with). As I was once told, ‘we don’t just watch TV anymore’, so expect hybrid events and experiences that create a FOMO and/or combat those with FOGO. At the same time, certain things are more likely to remain a consideration for events, such as sustainability and wellness.
There is little doubt that with an easing of the lockdown the tier system is likely to return, and Social Distancing will remain a key component of that process, with layouts and capacities likely to change over time, subject to government guidelines. And outdoor events and activities will also likely be an interim option, particularly during better weather seasons. For example, RHS Chelsea Flower Show potentially going ahead by allowing attendance based on a negative covid test.
Social distancing is obviously just one of the many Safety First considerations, with expectations that venues will have a duty of care for the hygiene, health & safety of attendees, from managing their flow through the building; appropriate signage, provision of sanitisation (anti-bacteria hand-gels/wash), etc. Industry standards and Accreditations will remain as important as the procedures and risk assessments they promote.
What does this mean for venues?
Firstly, when considering technology, there are New Venues, New Competitors to consider. TV studios, virtual venues, event & production company warehouses, who may have pivoted or adapted, offering tech ready spaces/stages for virtual/hybrid events. It might also be worth considering office buildings, where larger businesses have started reconsider their long-term leases, the buildings/office spaces providers may need to adapt their facilities – becoming even more multi-purpose, incorporating meeting spaces, lounges, virtual pods, etc.
Secondly, there seems to be some expectations around ‘high tech venues’, that provide super-fast broadband, have on-site technology and offer audio-visual support. This would indicate that organisers may have bigger AV budgets, and offer a secondary income for venue, although it is likely to be balanced with smaller F&B budgets.
The obvious reasoning for small F&B budgets is the smaller attendee numbers linked to social distancing & FOGO. Venues are going to have to be clear on this aspect (about their capacities), and considerate of their pricing, as larger spaces for smaller numbers will be demanded. Not only that but there is also a definite shift towards more Flexibility, such as cancellation and attrition terms, with a careful balance that meets the needs of both parties.
Even though F&B will reduce, expectations are still high, with both event planners and attendees having greater culinary awareness. Venues will need to be conscious of dietary trends, requirements, intolerances and allergens. The buffet is ‘dead’, likely to be replaced by some sort of Contactless Food Delivery with physical distanced seating, but another area venues are going to have to get creative with.
In 2021, I believe; the hope & demand for physical events will remain high, as we are all desperate to engage with each other in person; this year will be a transitional period, where we will see the phased restart of the meeting and events industry, which may look and feel a bit different with tech being a major part; and the economic impact of this pandemic is still to be fully realised and we should all just be mindful of expectation.
Whatever the outcome, I wish everyone a safe, healthy and successful year!